Sir George has criticised proposals from the senior Labour politician, Mo Mowlam, to abolish parish councils in order to make way for regional assemblies. Her comments, likely to be considered seriously in Whitehall, come as the Government is considering which tiers of local government to abolish to make way for regional government.
“We already knew that Labour, supported by the Liberal Democrats, want to impose regional assemblies on Hampshire and abolish the county council. Now the cat is out of the bag – the process of local government ‘simplification’ could also include the abolition of parish councils.
”Abolishing the likes of St Mary Bourne, Abbotts Ann and many other parish councils to make way for a Wessex Regional Assembly based in Guildford would take power away from local people. People in NW Hants identify with their parishes, towns and counties, not distant politicians based around meaningless ‘Government Regions’.
“I value the work of my parish councillors. Yet I fear this is further evidence that local parish councils face being regulated and streamlined out of existence.”
Writing in The Times on 26 August 2002, former Labour Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam asserted, “By increasing regional government we need to see a simplification of local and central government, for example the end of parish councils, to be replaced by local district councils”.
Parish councils have faced a series of attacks from Whitehall over the last months: (i) a new draconian Code of Conduct is causing many parish councillors to resign across the country; (ii) under Government plans for ‘Quality Parish Councils’, in order to obtain new sources of funding, parish councils will be obliged to meet rigid Whitehall-set targets, (iii) large parishes could face new audit and inspection costs of up to £30,000 a year under the imposition of ‘Best Value’, (iv) the Countryside Agency insultingly graded a third of all parishes in England as ‘sleeping’ or ‘barely active’.
John Prescott’s Regions White Paper published in May outlined plans for regional assemblies, and the abolition of either district or county councils - ‘[in two-tier areas] we believe it would be more efficient and simple if we moved to a fully unitary system of local government… [a review] will examine the two-tier areas of the region and make proposals for wholly unitary local government’
Labour Minister, Nick Raynsford, has explained, “we are asking the independent boundary committee to consider the appropriate structure for a wholly unitary pattern of local government… It will need to consider whether a structure based predominantly on the county or on the district is the most appropriate in each circumstance” (HC Debs, col. 146-7, 21 May 2002). Hence, a review may conclude that a ‘unitary’ pattern of local government should also involve the abolition of the tier of parish councils as well.
Liberal Democrats similarly support regional government. As their spokesman, Don Foster, has remarked, ‘no ifs, no buts; we back regional government.’ (Speech to Liberal Democrat Party Conference, 20 September 2000). They concede that local government restructuring may have to follow the introduction of regional assemblies – ‘following the move to regional government, it will be a responsibility of the region to agree all future changes to the structure of local governance’ (Don Foster, Empowering the People: Plans for Strong Regional Government, February 2002, clause 6.2.3).